ZIP codes and property values predict obesity rates

August 29, 2007

Neighborhood property values predict local obesity rates better than education or incomes, according to a study from the University of Washington being published online this week by the journal Social Science and Medicine. For each additional $100,000 in the median price of homes, UW researchers found, obesity rates in a given ZIP code dropped by 2 percent.

The study, based on analyses of responses to a telephone survey conducted in King County by the local health department and the federal Centers for Disease Control, found six-fold disparities in obesity rates across the Seattle metropolitan area. Obesity rates reached 30 percent in the most deprived areas but were only around 5 percent in the most affluent ZIP codes.

"Obesity is an economic issue,” said Dr. Adam Drewnowski, director of the UW Center for Obesity Research and leader of the study. “Knowing more about the geography of obesity will allow us to identify the most vulnerable neighborhoods.”

Working with the local health agency, Public Health-Seattle & King County, the researchers aggregated multiple-year data from Washington state's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) to analyze data for more than 8,000 respondents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention use the same data to map rising obesity rates in the United States at the state level. However, unlike most states, Washington codes the BRFSS data by the respondents’ ZIP code, which permits more detailed analyses of local obesity rates at a finer geographic scale. Other information about the ZIP code areas was provided by data from the U.S. Census.

Residential property values were used as a proxy measure of ZIP code socioeconomic status. “Incomes are not the same as assets and wealth,” said Drewnowski. “The chief financial asset for most Americans is their home.”

Area prosperity can also be a good predictor of access to healthy foods, or opportunities for exercise.

The UW study was the first to examine obesity rates by area-based indexes of poverty and wealth across a metropolitan area. Previous studies have found higher obesity rates among racial and ethnic minorities and groups of lower education and incomes. Analyses of the same BRFSS data for King County showed that obesity rates were higher for African-Americans (26 percent) than for whites (16 percent), and were higher for people with annual incomes below $15,000 (20 percent) than for those with incomes above $50,000 (15 percent), all consistent with national trends. These disparities were much lower than those dependent on ZIP codes and geographic location. The study concluded that social and economic disparities were more important in predicting obesity than previously thought.

Well-known maps of rising obesity rates in the United States, also based on BRFSS data, showed only small differences among the poorest and the richest states.

“Those maps were used to support that argument that the obesity epidemic did not discriminate," said Drewnowski. "Our research shows that geography, social class, and economic standing all play huge roles in the obesity problem. Some of the most disadvantaged areas -- those hardest hit by low income, low education, and low property values -- are also the ones most affected by the obesity epidemic."

Source: University of Washington

Explore further: Zip code as important as genetic code in childhood obesity

Related Stories

Zip code as important as genetic code in childhood obesity

April 10, 2012
Nearly 18 percent of U.S. school-aged children and adolescents are obese, as the rate of childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The prevalence of obesity puts children at greater risk of developing ...

Fighting obesity requires a war on poverty

June 11, 2015
In February 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama launched 'Let's Move', the most high-profile anti-obesity initiative in the United States to date.

Southeastern states have highest rates of preventable deaths

May 1, 2014
(HealthDay)—People in the southeastern United States have a much greater risk of dying early from any of the nation's five leading causes of death, federal health officials reported Thursday.

The fat city that declared war on obesity

October 13, 2015
When Velveth Monterroso arrived in the USA from her hometown in Guatemala, she weighed exactly 10 stone. But after a decade of living in Oklahoma, she was more than five stone heavier and fighting diabetes at the age of 34. ...

The key to your health could be in your ZIP code

September 16, 2015
In January 2015, President Obama launched the Precision Medicine Initiative, a plan to support research into treatment and prevention strategies that take differences between people – especially genetics – into account.

Recommended for you

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.